Q: I’d like to make community service a regular part of our homeschool, but I’m not sure where to start. My kids are 6 and 8 years old, and a lot of organizations seem to want volunteers who are at least 16. Do you have any suggestions for homeschoolers looking for volunteer opportunities?
A: Yes! Volunteering is a great family project, and it’s definitely worth the effort of seeking out opportunities for your kids to contribute to their community and the world around them.
With younger kids like yours, the volunteer driver will be you: You’ll choose activities you care about and bring your kids along for the ride, whether that means carrying trash bags at your local park’s annual clean-up days or decorating the box for your family’s food bank drive contribution. Let your kids know that their contribution makes a difference — say things like, “Isn’t it great to clean up the park? It’s a lot of work for one person, but it’s easier when we all do it together. We’re lucky to have such a fun park to play in. I’m glad we can take care of it.”
Some organizations welcome younger volunteers as long as their parent sticks around: Check with animal shelters, nursing and retirement homes, community gardens, and food banks, which are often family friendly volunteer zones. Or consider volunteer work you can do at home, such as making blankets for Project Linus or drawing pictures for Color a Smile.
It’s great when kids get the bigger picture at a younger age, but don’t be disappointed if your children don’t immediately appreciate the importance of volunteer work. For most kids, a developed sense of empathy and interest in the larger world around them don’t really start to kick in until they’re 10 years old or so. That’s when kids will really start to appreciate the positive impact they are having on their community as a reward on its own—until then, try to keep the projects fun and give your young volunteers plenty of positive reinforcement for their community service efforts.